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Links: Your Brain Is Tricky, Making Black Vienna Work & More

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars
If you're like me, then you're 6'5" and in need of a haircut. More relevantly to this post, you take whatever you read and apply it to games, as with this first item:

• A March 2011 article in Scientific American titled "How Free Is Your Will?" reports on research that suggests you decide to take action before you know that you decide to take action. Patients who had electrodes implanted in their brains and recording the activity of specific neurons were asked to watch a clock with a button in hand, press the button whenever they wanted to, and – most importantly – indicate where the second hand had been pointing when they decided to press the button. From the article:

Quote:
But here is the interesting thing: about a quarter of these neurons began to change their activity before the time patients declared as the moment they felt the urge to press the button. The change began as long as a second and a half before the decision, and as early as seven tenths of a second before it, this activity was robust enough that the researchers could predict with over 80 percent accuracy not only whether a movement had occurred, but when the decision to make it happened.
I'd like to see this experiment recreated with patients playing Jungle Speed.

• Designer Richard Berg was interviewed on the Old Board Gamers Blog about Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars, due out soonish from Toy Vault.

• Designers Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim are interviewed on Giant Fire Breathing Robot about Train of Thought, Belfort and working together as a long-distance couple.

• On Opinionated Gamers, Greg Aleknevicus explains why he created an online version of the deduction game Black Vienna and why the online version does (and doesn't) work better than the real life version. Which other games fall into the bucket of "better as an online game"? I know I had that reaction after playing At the Gates of Loyang with three. I appreciated the cleverness of the design and liked the game play, but watching others churn through the possibilities of how to string together a dozen actions optimally was less of a thrill.

• The seventh annual gathering of game designers at the Swiss Museum of Games takes place May 7-8, 2011. If you happen to be in the neighborhood – or need an excuse to visit the Alps – be sure to stop and check it out!

• Another obscure game migrates to iOS, this being 22 Apples by designer Juan Carlos Pérez Pulido. I've played this game roughly a dozen times and have not won once. Apparently I perfected an anti-strategy...

• And designer Reinhard Staupe has moved into the iOS field as well, but with the original game SqWhere, developed as an app by Gilad Yarnitzky.
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Wed Mar 30, 2011 7:30 am
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Preview: Ankh-Morpork – an Early Peek at the City

Board Game: Discworld: Ankh-Morpork
There's a lot of buzz around Ankh-Morpork, even though the game isn't due out until late in 2011, but the reasons for this are clear, of course: a new Martin Wallace design themed in the Discworld settings. Gamers who are also Terry Pratchett fans are champing at the bit to see how this combination will work.

I was lucky enough to play Ankh-Morpork three times recently thanks to Martin sending two copies of the prototype for hands-on testing at PLAY: The Games Festival, Italy's largest event for board gamers. (Advance preview copies at conventions are another big reason for the buzz!) Note that this preview is based on a prototype version of the design, so things might change in the published game. Let's start with the setting:

Quote:
Lord Vetinari is dead!.. or on holiday, or the victim of a kidnapping – or possibly all three. What you do know is that he's not around at the moment and the city is calling out for firm leadership. Trouble, as ever, is brewing among the streets of Ankh-Morpork. Through the careful placement of your many and various minions you can guide the city towards making a sensible choice about its future!
The game is set in Ankh-Morpork, with the game board showing the city being divided into twelve areas. By placing minions and buildings into various areas, the players try to fulfill the victory conditions displayed on the secret personality card they received at the start of the game. With seven personality cards in the game (and at most four players), you'll have to work to decipher what other players are looking for.

The game is played in turns, and on each turn a player plays one or more cards from his hand, then refills his hand to five cards. As you might expect then, the core of the game is all about the cards, of which there are 110 divided into two colors: blue cards for the first half of the game and red cards for the second half. (Blue cards have fewer actions and fewer events than red cards so you have time to set up strategy and build toward more in the later game.) You have to plan your actions, build your hand to prepare for particular moves, and check what other players are doing. As Martin stresses in the rules, it's important to know the different objectives of all seven personalities so that you can prevent other players from winning.

Each card displays one or more action icons, and when you play a card, you carry out some or all of the actions indicated on the card in left to right order, with the only mandatory action being the draw event. Cards allow you to place or remove minions, place buildings, remove trouble markers, take money or draw a random event card. Some cards allow you to immediately play another card, allowing you to build combos in your hand, then spring them on others. Most of the cards are played during your turn, but there are also interrupt cards and a lot of cards with special text. The theme of the game is reproduced well in the action cards, the event cards and the general flow of the game – and naturally there are demons and trolls!

You can place minions in any area where you already have minions or any area adjacent to one where you have a minion. If another player's minion is in that area, you place a trouble marker on that location (unless one is already present).

To place a building in an area, you must pay money and have a minion in the area; in return, you receive an area card that grants you a special ability that you can use once each turn. Areas bearing a black trouble marker are under contention, so no one can build in them. To remove a trouble marker, you must remove a minion from that troubled area.

The game flows well and easily, with the trouble marker rule being a big plus. When you're alone you can build, but as soon as another minion enters, the area becomes "troubled". Sure, you can remove the minion (and the associated trouble marker), but then you usually need to wait a turn before being able to build, so sometimes you look for other things to do.

Placing buildings is important but not essential, and the special abilities given by controlling the different areas combine well with the different secret winning conditions, examples of which are to have a minion in X areas (with X dependent on the number of players), control Y areas by having more bits in the area than any other player, collect a certain amount of money or have a certain number of trouble markers on the map. Commander Vimes messes with everyone by winning if no one else has won before reaching the end of the action deck.

Playing Ankh-Morpork feels like you're reading one of the city chronicles or a report from Lord Vetinari's spies. If this design is the beginning of a new series of games based on novels (as Martin told me in an interview for Opinionated Gamers) Ankh-Morpork is a good start and I'm eager to see the other chapters of the series!
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Tue Mar 29, 2011 7:07 pm
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New Game Round-up: New Dungeon Run, New Ages of Industry & FFG in June 2011

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Dungeon Run
A short list today, but one packed with lots in a small space:

• Colby Dauch of Plaid Hat Games has updated the game listing for Mr. Bistro's Dungeon Run, detailing the game's setting and adding pics of the game's new look. Dungeon Run is scheduled for an August 2011 release.

Martin Wallace's Ankh-Morpork gets an early showing at Club Tremme before being available for play at, um, PLAY, an annual convention in Modena, Italy. Andrea Ligabue will preview Ankh-Morpork on BGG News in the near future following multiple playings at PLAY.

• Speaking of Martin Wallace, one new item that has popped onto the list of new and newish titles to look for at UK Games Expo 2011 in June is an expansion board for Age of Industry, specifically a double-sided game board with Japan on one side and Minnesota on the other. As Wallace noted on BGG in December 2010, "Both maps will have little twists on the original rules."

Fantasy Flight Games has unveiled its June 2011 release schedule, but rather than provide more details in this post, I'll instead link to all the game listings because, yes, they are already all live in the database:

A Game of Thrones: The Card Game - The Isle of Ravens
Arkham Horror: The Curse of the Dark Pharaoh (Revised Edition)
Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game - That Which Consumes
Chaos in the Old World: The Horned Rat
Dust Tactics: Light Assault Walker
Dust Tactics: Light Panzer Walker
Dust Tactics: Operation "SeeLöwe!"
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game - Conflict at the Carrock
Twilight Imperium: Shards of the Throne
Warhammer: Invasion – Legends
Warhammer: Invasion – The Eclipse of Hope

Pegasus Spiele has released the rules for Stefan Feld's Strasbourg in English and German.

• Steve Jackson Games updates what might be include in its forthcoming giant box of Ogre.

• Designer Frederic Moyersoen has posted a pic from his next game to be released, Cherokee, a card game for 2-4 players. No, wait, now he's posted two more.

• Alliance Game Distributors is listing Paris Connection (Queen Games) as an April 2011 release and Queen's Lancaster, Mammut Jäger and Thebes Card Game as May 2011 releases.

• One other upcoming release with little info available on the game, this time for May 2011, is Deadlands: Invasion of Slaughter Gulch from Twilight Creations.
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Tue Mar 29, 2011 5:48 am
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Designer Diary: The Endless Creation of Perpetual-Motion Machine

Ted Alspach
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Louisville
Tennessee
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Board Game: Perpetual-Motion Machine
Perpetual-Motion Machine has been described by playtesters as Hansa Teutonica: The Card Game, which is nice praise, certainly, and while it is somewhat coincidental, the games are by no means unrelated.

Like 95% of American gamers at Essen, I missed out on Hansa Teutonica at Spiel 2009. It looked like run-of-the-mill area control, and the artwork was uninspiring. I don't believe I gave it a second look at the publisher's booth, and absolutely no one at the show told me to check it out. When BGG.con rolled around a month later, there was some buzz, and I had an opportunity to play the game. When I did, I immediately snatched up a copy, and over the next few months HT become one of the most-played games in my collection.

Except that it just wasn't very good (relatively speaking) at lower numbers. With four and five players, it was excellent. But three had some issues, and two felt very tacked on. Other folks thought it was too long and over complicated. I still liked it immensely, however.

I was quite fond of other skill tree games like Goa and Pirate's Cove (well, the skill tree aspect of it, at least), and had several games of my own developed and shelved that had skill trees. Inspired by HT, I broke one of them out for review, tweaked it a bit, and sat down to play a few games with a small set of playtesters. It was a space-themed game with a complex resource management tree where the resources were used in combination to increase your faction's speed, cargo area, weapons, range, etc. But it still wasn't something I felt had immediate potential, so it was shelved again.

Recycling

Board Game: Rapscallion
The other thing that was going on at this time was that I had way more copies of Rapscallion, a card game I released in 2008, printed than I knew I would ever sell. The game itself is fine, but it never caught on like I had hoped, and I had a whole bunch of games that were essentially just taking up space. I was considering what to do with those games – this is indeed a very strange dilemma that publishers face...what to do with unsellable overstock – when the thought hit me that I could cannibalize parts of the game to help reduce costs on a future game, if I needed the same components. In the past, I usually let the game's development dictate the components, but this was a new challenge: how to make parts of an existing game work in something new.

The most obvious re-usable piece from the game was a 52-card deck of cards, which had custom suits designed to be a turn-of-the-20th-Century style to fit the Victorian theme of Rapscallion. Inspiration hit as I was going through my game shelves and stumbled across an old favorite: Havoc: The Hundred Years War, a game where players use poker hands from a significantly expanded deck of cards (more suits and more cards in each suit) to "wage battles" against each other, with the victor of each battle getting more VPs than the next highest hand, etc.

Initial Designs and Modifications

The thought I had was "What if each time you played a hand of cards, you could increase your ability to get better cards into your hand?" I started with the ability to increase your hand size, then added the ability to draw additional cards into your hand each turn. Tracking your new skills was done with cubes, kind of the reverse way that HT was doing it, in an almost upside-down version of the Goa skill tree. Each time you increased a skill, you moved a counter forward one space to increase your score.

That was okay, and it certainly was moderately compelling, but it felt a little dry and was way too dependent on which cards you drew sight unseen. I changed the card selection mechanism so that players could select a card (or cards, if their skill was high enough) from a set of four face-up cards instead of a face-down draw deck. That provided some more interesting options.

Very quickly I added an additional skill that allowed the player to pick from the face-down deck as well, giving them the choice of either some of the visible cards or if there was nothing displayed that they were interested in, a shot at something better from the deck.

I then added irregular skill tree advances, in that some of the increases on the skill tree took more than one cube, allowing your score to rise more quickly as you increased each of the skills to its maximum.

Finally, I decided to limit the number of cubes the player had available to him at any one time by allowing the player to "run the machine", instead of taking/playing cards, by taking cubes from the general pile (at this time, all players had equal access to a pool of cubes) and placing them in a personal pile. This personal pile is where the cubes came to place them on the board. The number of cubes taken was dependent on the player's score. (The number of cubes to be taken was the score divided by five.) To make things more interesting, another skill was added that increased a number of "bonus" cubes that could be taken.

Playtesting

At this point the first playtesting began. Most of it was two-player because in my mind I wanted to ensure that this game was clearly playable by two players. The game supported up to five players and an occasional test was done this way.

A word about how I do playtesting: First, before anyone plays one of my games, I do pretty exhaustive self-testing. This is the first step of the playtesting process, and for me this is the point where about 50% of games fail outright, and I realize that I had made some sort of grievous oversight in the design, and that the game just didn't work. Forty percent of the time the game needs serious tweaking, and about 10% of the time I realize that there's something really intriguing about the design and I make minor modifications quite often in the middle of these self-testing sessions.

The way I do self-testing is to play as two or more people, all by myself. In the case of PMM, I dealt cards to each "player" face up and took turns for each player. The one thing that's missing in the case of PMM is that each player doesn't know what the other players' cards are, which hampered testing a bit, but still allowed me to work through the mechanisms and get a feel for the length and scope of the game as it's being played.

As the game was being tweaked, I started playtesting the game with other people, and the game quickly evolved.

Development

Publishing your own games is kind of tricky. As a game designer, you rarely think about the costs and complexities of game publication. For the games I've submitted to other publishers, I've focused on the game play and rules, and made the assumption that the publisher would figure out all the publication details. That's rarely the case, however, as the games other publishers have published tend to have an enormous amount of input from me on what they actually contain.

But when you're publishing your own game, you're constantly thinking about costs, weight, sizes, printing issues, artwork, and all the other issues surrounding creating a game. So with Perpetual-Motion Machine, since one of the goals of the game was to figure out a use for all those extra Rapscallion card decks and to publish it myself, this was a constant thought.

In the case of Perpetual-Motion Machine, the fiscal issues had an impact on the game play in a very positive way...when it came to how the cubes that tracked the skills and score were being used. In order to make the game work as originally designed, I would have had to have about 160 cubes in each box, as the cubes were virtually unlimited, and each player could fill up most of the spaces on his game board before the end. That's a lot of cubes, and it got me thinking about how I could reduce that to a reasonable number. (I ended up with 80 per box.)

Because of that thinking, I streamlined the cube placing, transferring and even the scoring process, reducing the need for all of those extra cubes.

Board Game: Perpetual-Motion Machine
Perpetual-Motion Machine – player mat and cards

The player mats were another consideration. I (and retailers) really liked the size of the Rapscallion and Ultimate Werewolf boxes – just big enough to comfortably contain the components of the game, while small enough to easily fit several on a retailer's shelf. Players liked the small boxes, too. When I developed Beer & Pretzels in 2009, I ended up with a bigger box so that I could economically print the coasters on a certain size board. (You'll notice that when you punch the coasters out, you can almost fit all the game components into an Ultimate Werewolf box.) So my goal with PMM was to again use the smaller box size. This defined the maximum size of the player mats.

Because the player mats were smaller than the original playtest sizes, the skill trees and scoring track really didn't fit well on them anymore. That led to removing the scoring track, and changing the goal (slightly) from a certain score to "getting rid of all of your cubes," which was much more clear and obvious from the players' standpoint.

Of course, getting rid of the score track required a change to the "running the machine" mechanism because it was now much more difficult to count up your points and divide by five, so that was simplified along with its corresponding skill tree. The end result was a simple "trade a card for a cube" which each increasing skill level allowing you to trade one additional card for a cube, thus making the player more efficient.

Final Tweaking and Publishing

Several months of playtesting changed the number of cubes each player had to place, the configuration and order of the skill trees, and even, at the very end, the initial setup.

Finally, the game was done and ready to be printed. I ordered a bunch of cubes wholesale from Germany, added Perpetual-Motion Machine boxes to an Ultimate Werewolf reprint being done overseas, and had the player mats and rules printed locally.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Big honking pile of cubage

By the time everything came in, I had already disassembled most of the Rapscallion copies in order to take the decks out, so I had all the components ready to go. It took a solid day of bagging cubes (by weight, which is while you'll see the rules say "at least" 80 cubes...most people will get 82 or 83), another few days of assembling boxes, and then a few afternoons of shrink wrapping to get the boxes all ready to ship.

The end result is much better than I could have hoped, and it's a game I'm quite proud of. The choices are interesting throughout the game, there's a reasonable amount of chance and luck. Playtesters who are good at the game win fairly consistently, which is pretty important to me: It's frustrating to have luck be so dominant in any game where experienced players often lose to newbies. It's mostly about you, the player, making the right decisions about what cards to add to your hand, when to play your cards, and when to increase your personal supply of cubes.

Ted Alspach

(This designer diary was first published on BoardgameNews.com in October 2010. —WEM)
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Mon Mar 28, 2011 4:10 am
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Links: SdJ Offers Scholarship, Fraga on Egg Sales & Alexander Pfister Calls Me Out

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
Lazy Sunday reading:

• The Spiel des Jahres committee is taking applications for its 16th annual Spieleautoren-Stipendium (game designer scholarship). The winner receives internships at both a large- and small-scale publisher in Germany, an internship at the personal studio of designer Jens-Peter Schliemann, €3,000 to pay for expenses while traveling to these internships, and other benefits. Previous recepients of the Stipendium include Sébastien Pauchon, Matthias Prinz, and Ulrich Blum. Applications must be received by May 16, 2011, and applicants must attend the game designer conference in Göttingen (to be held June 4-5) and display at least two games.

• Designer Roberto Fraga shares sales figures for Eiertanz, aka Dancing Eggs, with Spanish site Jugamos Tod@s. Nearly a quarter-million copies sold since its debut in 2003, with France being the best market and Germany not far behind. Of interest for those in the U.S. and other English-speaking locations, the article notes that Fraga has regained rights to sell the game in the North American market from HABA and is searching for a new publisher. Who wants to handle the eggy-weggs?

• Christian Wilson interviews designer Richard Launius at Meepletown, touching on his design philosphy and what you might see from him on game store shelves in the next twelve months.

• On Tric Trac, Cédrick Caumont from Repos Production gives an early look at the Ghost Stories iPad app in development.

• Tom Gurganus interviews Chris Cieslik from Asmadi Games about the founding and evolution of his company. Interesting quote from Cieslik: "I was a member of GAMA for a year. It provided me with exactly zero value, and so I am no longer a GAMA member."

• On Opinionated Gamers, Jonathan Degann has a juicy post on the "Frustration Factor" – the mirror image of the "Fun Factor" that so many reviewers feel compelled to reference/create/postulate about when they review a game. An excerpt:

Quote:
Being bogged down in a game is always frustrating – whether it was caused by poor play, bad luck, or other circumstance. Still, a situation always seems worse when it was caused by circumstances out of our control. So many Eurogames involve elements of luck, and yet sometimes the luck is really bothersome and sometimes we accept it. When does luck seem to be acceptable in a game?

My belief is that the distinction is between "luck" and "risk". "Luck" is part of the environment of the game which you don't control but which you must put up with. It imposes itself on you. "Risk" is luck that you accept as part of your game decision.
• Old news, but something I missed earlier: Founding Fathers is coming to both Vassal and online gaming site Yucata.de, according to publisher Jim Dietz.

• A March 22 news item on ICv2 lists game publishers which are owed more than $100,000, a list that includes Flying Frog and Hasbro.

Michael Schacht's Shanghaien is now available in beta version on online gaming site Yucata.

• In a March 18 BGG News post, I mentioned a two- and three-player variant for The Mines of Zavandor from designer Alexander Pfister, but the post was in German and some commenters were left in the dark. Well, Pfister has now posted that variant in English and perhaps to get my attention he titled the post – wait for it – "W. Eric Martin". Mission accomplished!
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Sun Mar 27, 2011 9:47 pm
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Designer Diary: Top Speed – Racing on the Shoulders of Giants

Néstor Romeral Andrés
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Board Game: Top Speed
Back in 2003, Spanish driver Fernando Alonso began doing good things in Formula 1, making Pole positions and winning races. Being a Formula 1 fan and a wannabe game designer, I decided to create a racing game, just for having fun with my friends.

I called it Top Speed.

The game used a circuit, a few cars I bought at a local toy store, a common pool of cards with movement points, and a simple hand-management mechanism. It didn't work well enough at first, so after a few weeks I kept it on the shelf.

But one weekend, a planet re-alignment happened.

First, I discovered a great article on The Games Journal by Wolfgang Kramer called "What Makes a Game Good?" Kramer is co-designer of El Grande, among many other games, and has won the Spiel des Jahres – Germany's game of the year award – five times, so when Mr. Kramer speaks, I listen. "What Makes a Game Good" is a ten-minute read that every game designer should know and that summarizes all the aspects a good game should have. For me, it's like the Bible of board game design.

Board Game: Hacienda
Mr. Good Game, Wolfgang Kramer

So I started re-designing Top Speed by following Mr. Kramer's guidelines point by point. I'm not saying that I've achieved them – I'm just saying that I've tried my best. It's up to you to judge whether I've been successful!

I wanted to re-create Kramer's "sawtooth curve of tension", so I needed a simple mechanism that created rising tension with each turn and increased tension over the course of the whole race.

That same weekend (second planet aligned) I was playing Las siete y media (Seven and a half) with friends. This game is like Blackjack in that you draw or pass while trying to hit a certain point total – a very simple but interesting "push your luck" mechanism.

And that same weekend (third planet here), I was watching a Formula 1 Grand Prix, and the commentator said something that glued all this together: "The 22 drivers in the race know how to change gears, overtake, accelerate, brake... But that is not all there is to it. This is racing. And racing is about taking risks. The driver that gets closer to the risk limit has the higher chance of winning the race."

That was it. Perfect!

So all I had to do was plug a push-your-luck mechanism into the game to make it work – but this was not as easy as I expected. Plugging a Blackjack-style mechanism into the design showed limitations, such as an upper bound for the fastest lap, and created a few problems, such as the potential for a runaway leader.

So I needed a better PYL mechanism. The game went back to the shelf again.

 
In 2005, a great game by Bruno Faidutti and Alan R. Moon called Diamant appeared. (I think I played that game 20 or 30 times in a row.) Diamant uses a simple but perfect PYL mechanism: Players turn a card or pass. If you get two identical bad cards, you lose all the gems you've collected so far. That style of risk-taking was exactly what I needed, so I decided to adapt this mechanism to my game. Hey, if something works well, why not use it? Thank you, Alan and Bruno!

But, again, it was not that easy. Correctly implementing a mechanism is as hard as inventing a new one. Diamant looks like a small game created from a bigger one, through the distillation of the main mechanism, whereas Top Speed would be the opposite, using a PYL mechanism as the core of a bigger game. How to do this?

I decided that every player should have his own deck of cards to represent the amount of fuel remaining, and the longer you run during the race, the fewer cards you have remaining. When a player runs out of fuel, he can re-fuel the car by making a pit stop, which shuffles all of his fuel cards into a new deck and moves him a few spaces backwards.

Completing a single lap in the race took around 20-30 rounds, which was too much. So I decided that every round must be equal to one lap, plus a bit more. That "bit more" are the movement points achieved by each player in the round. As a result, the length of the game matches the length of a Formula 1 race, with one lap per round and around 1 to 1.5 minutes per lap.

Then I decided what the "problem cards" would be – tire blowout, engine problem, off track, etc. – along with the consequences of them being shown twice (negative movement points in the following rounds). I added the Safety Car and Yellow Flag rules, and balanced the distribution of the cards in the deck and the spaces on the track so that 1 or 2 pit stops are required to make a good race.

Finally, and following Mr. Kramer's commandments once again, I solved the runaway leader problem by matching the turn order to the race order so that players in the lead would have less information than everyone else. This way the race leader changes a lot as the players in front tend to take fewer risks (as they have less information on which to make decisions), and therefore go slower; the players behind do the opposite, therefore catching the leader.

I made a prototype in 2005 and gave it to my playtesters. (Thank you all!) The game changed hands for four years, and I received a lot of valuable feedback, different ideas and opinions, but one common request: Get it published.

Board Game: Top Speed
The prototype

Okay, I decided to make it happen, but I needed a publisher and which one would be appropriate? Formula Dé was already out there, and German publishers didn't seem to like racing games much. The game went back to the shelf again.

Then I created other games and started nestorgames in 2009. And a year later, I took Top Speed off the shelf for the last time.

Top Speed has been the most difficult game to produce. The format is bigger than the nestorgames' standard ( with three pads+case+carrying bag+decks+cars), and it's modular as the components are sold separately. But I was lucky to hire two of the best artists out there (Jorge Galán Liquete and Chechu Nieto), and this made things easier as they had already illustrated some nestorgames' titles previously: Robosoccer and Essentia. My friend Nathan Morse helped with the rules translation, too.

Board Game: Top Speed
Cards by Chechu Nieto


Board Game: Top Speed
Circuit by Jorge Galán Liquete, which uses three pads rolled into a cotton case

Finally, I needed a cool 2.5D laser-cut acrylic car. I designed the awful NG-2010 last year, but my laser-cut operator said, "Man, what's this crap? Give me a few days to fix it." I said, "Okay", and the cool NG-2011 was born.

Board Game: Top Speed
The new NG-2011

Hmmm... But where to keep all the components? A box? That's not very Nestorish. What about a backpack?

Board Game: Top Speed
The Top Speed backpack

And that's it. I've just published the game and hope you enjoy the game as much as I've enjoyed designing it.

Thank you for reading.

Néstor
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Fri Mar 25, 2011 6:24 pm
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Play 2011: New Releases & Demo Games

From gallery of W Eric Martin
On March 26-27, 2011 the Italian city of Modena will host PLAY: The Games Festival, the largest Italian gaming event and one that differs from festivals like Lucca Comics & Games in that the main focus is on games and the playing of those games. With more than 270 gaming events and 100+ tables dedicated to open gaming, PLAY is the ideal place for gamers who want to sample the new Nuremberg releases, in addition to getting a look at what will be released in the future.

Here's a rundown of the Italian publishers that will present new and upcoming releases at PLAY:

Angelo Porazzi Games will present Assist, a new game designed by Porazzi and Marco Donadoni.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• In addition to previewing Winter Tales and Sake & Samurai, Albe Pavo will present a demo copy of MUNERA: Ars Dimicandi, an expansion for MUNERA: Familia Gladiatoria that can be downloaded for free. Here's an overview of this expansion:

Quote:
MUNERA: Ars Dimicandi is focused on fighting and gives to each lanista a new way to manage the duels of his champions. It also offers a new approach to the managerial system, promoting a more accurate managerial planning of the game.
From gallery of liga
From gallery of liga
From gallery of liga

Asterion Press will show off the Italian versions of 7 Wonders and Tikal 2 and will perhaps have preview copies of expansions for 7 Wonders and Dixit.

• Ghenos Games will have copies of the newly released Pamplona: Viva San Fermin!.

Giochi Uniti will bring Cargo Noir from Days of Wonder and Italian editions of several games, including Battles of Westeros, Water Lily, A Games of Thrones LCG, The Lord of the Rings LCG and Egizia.

• After launching its first roleplaying game – Project H.O.P.E. – the publishing house Limana Umanita Edizioni will take on the challenge of designing card games with War of Wonders, a living card game based on the characters in Project H.O.P.E. An overview:

Quote:
1941: the Second World War is at its climax and the Axis powers dominate Europe with their armies and their Meta-Humans, superheroes created in the Third Reich's laboratories by mutation chambers. The Free World might seem doomed, but...

There's still hope. A Polish Hebrew scientist who was forced to work in Nazi labs escapes to Great Britain and creates the first mutation chambers for the Allies. Thanks to him, the Allies now have a chance to stop the Nazi tide. It's time to combat for freedom, it's time for the War of Wonders.
War of Wonders is a living card game for two players who will take control of two factions: Allies and Axis. Every faction must gain victory points by accomplishing missions of three kinds: Combat, Intelligence and Sabotage. To reach their targets, players must develop their facilities and use them to create and recruit Meta-Humans to unleash in battle. With accurate planning you can build a powerful army of superheroes, or with fast raids you can try to achieve a sudden victory.

War of Wonders will be previewed at PLAY and available from March 30, 2011.

From gallery of liga
From gallery of liga

NG International will present, after a long wait, Letters from Whitechapel and Magestorm. Piero Cioni will attend PLAY, presenting demo copies of expansions for both Magestorm and Dakota.

Red Glove will preview Ristorante Italia.

Scribabs will show a preview version of 011 with designer Marco Valtriani on hand for the event.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg as most publishers, big and small, will attend PLAY with new games, demos, previews and prototypes. Most Italian game designers will be present, including Andrea Angiolino, Leo Colovini, Emanuele Ornella, Paolo Mori and Piero Cioni.

Finally, at the Club TreEmme booth two preview copies of Ankh-Moropork, the new Martin Wallace game due out for Spiel 2011, will be available for play.
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Fri Mar 25, 2011 5:30 am
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New Game Round-up: Sins and Redemption, Wu Feng and Boomtown Return & More

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
Let's start with a "You want theme? I'll give you theme!" challenge:

• On his State of Play blog, Thomas L. McDonald gives an overview of Alf Seegert's The Road to Canterbury, coming in Q3 2011 from FRED/Gryphon Games. An excerpt of the game description:

Quote:
In The Road to Canterbury, you play a medieval pardoner who sells certificates delivering sinners from the eternal penalties brought on by these Seven Deadly Sins. You make your money by peddling these counterfeit pardons to Pilgrims traveling the road to Canterbury. Perhaps you can persuade the Knight that his pride must be forgiven? Surely the Friar's greed will net you a few coins? The Miller's wrath and the Monk's gluttony are on full public display and demand pardoning! The Wife of Bath regales herself in luxury, the Man-of-Law languishes in idleness, and that Prioress has envy written all over her broad forehead. And the naughty stories these Pilgrims tell each other are so full of iniquity they would make a barkeep blush! Pardoning such wickedness should be easy money, right?
Anyone looking for a theme previously untapped should be keen to hear more about this one.

• On Jeux sur un Plateau, designer Antoine Bauza gives a ten-minute video overview of Ghost Stories: Black Secret en français. Lots of new stuff going on, but I won't pretend to have understood everything I heard on the video. One thing Bauza notes in the article accompanying the video is the Black Secret completes Ghost Stories, with nothing planned for the future except perhaps fun one-off cards like Chuck No-Rice.

• Designer Bruno Faidutti has announced a new edition of Boomtown from him and Bruno Cathala – but only in Polish for now. Check out the Piraci page on Faidutti's website for the new graphics that go with a new theme from this Egmont Polska release.

• In the annals of high-minded game presentation, I'd be hard-pressed to name something that tops the approach taken by designer Rui Alípio Monteiro and design company Criações a Solo for his Trench. I feel enriched having looked over the website, pondered the many quotes and watched the metaphorically-rich video presenting the game – but I still don't know how to play the darned thing...

Fantasy Flight Games has produced an elaborate video tutorial for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. Fantastic atmosphere created by the voice-over artist!

• Another day, another few expansions from FFG: The publisher is releasing a new version of the Arkham Horror expansion The Curse of the Dark Pharaoh. Details on what's being added to the expansion in this [url=news post on the FFG website. FFG will also release The Horned Rat Expansion for Chaos in the Old World (details) and a Legends Expansion for Warhammer: Invasion – The Card Game (details).

• Brett Gilbert compiles pics of LEGO's forthcoming Heroica series of games.

Munchkin Zombies and two expansions for Summoner Wars – the Jungle Elves and Cloaks reinforcement packs – all have a U.S. street date of March 30, 2011. My Kind of Town from Your Move Games is headed to U.S. stores, as is The Heavens of Olympus from Mike Compton and Rio Grande Games.

• New entries in the BGG database include Liberator (an expansion for Mali Powstańcy from designer Filip Miłuński and publisher Egmont) and Drôles de Mamans, in which you "collect and assemble parts of moms". And don't go thinking anything weird, mind you – it's a kids game!
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Thu Mar 24, 2011 7:21 am
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Designer Diary: Evolutionary Lessons Discovered on Chimera Isle

Kevin Lanzing
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Board Game: Chimera Isle
Author's Note: The purpose of this designer diary is twofold. First, I'd like to chronicle the somewhat haphazard trajectory Chimera Isle took going from concept to published game. Second, I'd like this to be a primer for other aspiring game designers who could benefit from my hindsight. Interspersed with this story are five hard-learned lessons which can be applied when designing any game, not only this one.

As themes go, natural selection is as ambitious as they come. All the elements are there for a truly epic game: growth, evolution, migration, domination, natural disasters, extinction. The magnitude of the theme is staggering, but therein lies the problem. How could any game hope to bring together all of these grand elements in a way that is coherent, playable, and fun? Many games have tried, with varying degrees of success.

All of that just made me more determined to put my own mark on the "natural selection" theme.

Lesson #1: Don't get married to your concept.

My first concept for what would eventually become Chimera Isle was hopelessly complex. Anything and everything you might expect to find was there. Evolution – check. Migration – yes, over a large board representing the entire Earth! Climate – but of course, and naturally the effects of long-term climate change would transform the board. My game also modeled a food chain, in which every creature had to eat a nearby plant or animal, or starve. It was an absurdly cluttered, mostly incoherent system that would have been a disaster to actually playtest. Thankfully, I came to my senses before investing too much of my time into what would have been a train wreck of a game.

Board Game: Dominant Species
Had I seriously pursued my original concept, it would have looked and played a lot like Dominant Species – no offense intended to that game, which from what I hear is pretty good!

Especially at the start of any game design project, a designer must be flexible. Almost every game I have designed ultimately became something very different from what I originally set out to create. It is easy to start with one idea and let it snowball over time into something ponderous, technical, and dry. It's similarly easy to get attached to your game mechanisms, and forget that they are all more or less disposable.

I had to take a big step back and reassess where I was headed. Did I really want to create the last word on epic ecological adventures? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that natural selection is actually pretty straightforward. There are species, and there are stresses. The species best adapted to the stresses it encounters will thrive at the expense of others. To borrow a popular phrase, it's "survival of the fittest".

The first thing I did was get rid of the board – which was a hard choice, but most of the bookkeeping and component sprawl came from managing tiny bits and pieces on a gigantic board. To justify my decision, I chose to scale down my setting. Rather than a supercontinent (Pangaea Ultima, to be precise) the species of my game would compete for resources on a small island. Issues like migration, continental drift, and geographical separation wouldn't even be relevant on such a scale.

Even if I no longer had a board, I knew I had to model the environment in some way. I decided to make the many habitats of my small island the stresses that species would overcome. The struggle for territory would become the central conflict of the game. Species that failed to claim territory would decline in population and significance. Eventually, entire species might go the way of the dodo. I don't usually favor player elimination as a mechanism, but here it felt appropriate. Life is tough, and only the strong survive. No natural selection game worth its salt would accept anything less.

Lesson #2: The simplest solution is often best.

It occurred to me in a flash of insight that the game that was developing now strongly resembled a poker game. The species were the players, and their population the chips. When species risked their population for the sake of claiming a habitat, they were "anteing in". When one species claimed a habitat, it "won the pot". The analogy was solid, and I knew that this sort of conceptual overlap would help in introducing new players to the rules.

What about the species? They needed to be easily distinguishable and different. Early on, I considered an auction mechanism for "winning" genetic characteristics: things like spines, wings, claws, and fur. That was fine in theory and presented a good way to model evolution in-game. But by this point I was beginning to think that evolution added layers of complexity the game didn't really need. Anyway, the auction mechanism would only add play time to a game I was trying hard to shorten and streamline. What else was there?

Board Game: American Megafauna
Apparently American Megafauna has already filled the niche for "auction-based evolution game" – I've been scooped again!

A childhood memory supplied the breakthrough. I expect almost everyone has seen this or something similar. A book of animals is split into three sections: head, body, and tail. By mixing up the pages, the head of the lion can be attached to the body of a hippo and the tail of an iguana. Kids like to mix and match the parts and laugh at the bizarre results. Like the best toys, it rewards creativity and can be understood immediately without explanation.

I could do something similar with cards. Not only would the art be fun to look at, but it would have a direct significance to the game. Creatures with furry bodies would be adapted to the cold, while creatures with long necks could reach fruit from the tallest trees. Forget climax communities and biomes; this was way more exciting. Upon making the mental connection between my own bizarre animal cross-breeds and creatures of myth, I finally had a working title for the game: Chimera Isle.

External image
This is completely ridiculous.

Lesson #3: Player interaction is the heart of a great game.

I presumed at first that some sort of symbology would have to be created to reflect the characteristics of the "chimeras". A cactus symbol in the corner would indicate fitness in desert settings, while a water droplet would indicate fitness in wetlands. This system was a sensible approach to the problems I faced. While it would have worked and was easy to read, it failed to leave much, if anything, to the imagination. If the game decided which chimeras developed and thrived, what was left for the players to do?

A game called Lifeboats supplied the answer. In that game, players are crewmen on a sinking ship who must escape to nearby islands on their leaky lifeboats. The tension and fun of the game comes from the voting mechanism it uses. Which boat moves forward? That depends on which one players vote for! Which boat springs a leak? Which crewman gets pushed out of an overcrowded boat? Vote! It's an exquisitely brutal game, for the reason that you must trust other self-interested individuals not to stab you in the back. I felt this was a nifty concept which could be effectively applied to my own game. Which chimera is the best swimmer: the one with the streamlined body or the one with webbed feet? Everyone votes, and the chimera with the most votes wins it all. It's a simple solution to a complicated problem. Rather than deciding myself which chimera is good at what, why not let the table decide?

Board Game: Lifeboats
Don't let the art fool you: Lifeboats is a cutthroat game.

I'd like to say that the voting mechanism for Chimera Isle emerged fully-formed and perfect on my first try, but as you must know by now that never happens. Originally players used a regular deck of playing cards, in addition to a hand of color cards. Players would conceal one color card representing their choice of creature, and a second playing card representing the strength of their vote. A single player with a "10" voting green would defeat two players voting red with a "5" and "2", respectively. Except for the Ace (value: 1), all cards played were discarded at the end of the turn. Only players who voted for the winning creature would themselves win new cards and a point at the end of the turn. The King, Queen, and Jack had special powers of their own which I won't go into.

Suffice it to say that I went overboard again and added needless complexity to what should have been a straightforward voting process. I quickly learned my lesson and pared down. Now players get one colored card for each creature they can vote for, and each vote is worth one point. The lead player breaks ties. Simple!

At this point the players still more or less represented the chimeras in the game. Each player was the secret patron of a specific chimera. Players won points whenever they voted for the winning chimera (whether or not it was their own), but also when their chimera did well. It was fun in a light and fluffy way, but all too quickly players recognized who favored what and adjusted their strategies to compensate. The "secret patron" game lives on as an optional variant, for younger players and those seeking a fast and light party game.

From gallery of Momerath
An early prototype of Chimera Isle – the game is starting to take shape.

Lesson #4: Nothing is ridiculous if it works.

By this point I was pleased with the direction of the game but dissatisfied with its depth. I tried all kinds of crazy things to make Chimera Isle both easy-to-play AND strategic.

Probably my craziest idea was to turn the game into an investment simulation! The points players won in the voting round were now a form of currency. Players could spend their points to buy "shares" of the chimeras, or even steal shares from other players. My chief inspiration here was Acquire, a game in which players influence and invest in hotel chains which they don't technically own. Does the idea of an investment game based around the animal kingdom sounds preposterous? Maybe so, but the mechanisms clicked right away and opened new avenues of strategic depth. I never looked back.

Board Game: Acquire
Shareholding and the animal kingdom are kind of an odd pairing, but if the shoe fits...

Lesson #5: Collaborate with others whose strengths match your weaknesses.

Chimera Isle was quickly shaping up to be both playable and fun. One problem remained, and that was the art. I am no artist, and my prototype was literally completed with Sharpie pen drawings on a cardboard canvas. That's fine for a prototype, but if I wanted to share this game with the world I needed the services of a real artist.

From gallery of Momerath
Don't laugh! The original art was serviceable, but nothing more.

A friend of mine introduced me to the work of "Bogleech", aka Jonathan Wojcik. He had a website showcasing strange things, creepy things, cute things, inexplicable things. Some of these were the product of his own imagination, such as his coloring book Old-Fashioned Nightmare Fuel for Children You Don't Love. His style could be described as "creepy-cute", sort of a "Tim Burton does Pokemon" kind of thing. It seemed like a good fit for Chimera Isle, but what sealed the deal were his articles on the many real-world misfits of the animal kingdom. An artist and naturalist all in one? He's like a John James Audubon who does cartoons! I sent him an email, he responded, and the result is Chimera Isle as you know it today.

Board Game: Chimera Isle
Original art by Jonathan Wojcik – only the strange survive on Chimera Isle!

Kevin Lanzing
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Wed Mar 23, 2011 5:31 am
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Links: Why Games Aren't Art, Interviews Galore, Squirrels & More

W. Eric Martin
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Let's kick off this link round-up with a heady post that spins in a different direction than what I normally cover:

• Brian Moriarty goes to the mat to argue that "video games can never be art" in "An Apology for Roger Ebert", a speech he presented at the 25th Game Designer's Conference in March 2011. Movie reviewer Roger Ebert caught flak from thousands of gamers after making statements along this line in 2005 and again in 2010 – yet Moriarty points out that Ebert was correct in noting: "No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers."

Moriarty delves into the history of art in many media, draws classic games into the argument to broaden the scope – "If Chess and Go, arguably the two greatest games in history, have never been regarded as works of art, why should Missile Command?" – and discusses the nature of kitsch and Arthur Schopenhauer's world view in order to get at the heart of why Ebert's statement is true. From Moriarty's essay:

Quote:
In my "Digital Game Design I" class, I define "play" as superfluous activity. I define a "toy" as something that elicits play, and a "game" as a toy with rules and a goal. Games are purposeful. They are defined as the exercise of choice and will towards a self-maximizing goal.

But sublime art is like a toy. It elicits play in the soul. The pleasure we get from it lies precisely in the fact that it has no rules, no goal, no purpose.
A brilliant essay that provides much to ponder, no matter where you fall on the games are/can be/never will be art spectrum. Check it out!

• Spielbox has opened voting for its "Guess the Spiel des Jahres" contest. Enter early for your best chance at winning. Oh, and choose the right game, too.

• Codito Development has posted screenshots of the Tikal and Puerto Rico iPad apps that it has in the works.

• As for other cardboard-to-digital developments, I had previously overlooked this Geeklist from Maciek Kasprzyk and others, which looks ahead to all the iPhone/iPad conversions coming in 2011.

• Designer Richard Garfield was interviewed about Netrunner at the Cannes game festival in February 2011. Netrunner, for those who don't know, was a collectible card game created by Garfield and published by Wizards of the Coast in 1996 in the unbelievably large wake of Magic's success. Fifteen years on, Netrunner still has a pool of devoted fans who would love to see the game return.

• Matt Morgan from MTV Geek interviewed Steve Jackson at PAX East in March 2011.

• On his Board Game Back Room blog, Matt Stevenson interviews Sean Ross, designer of Haggis.

• Issue #421 of WIN: The Games Journal is now available in English and German. The issue can be downloaded for free from the website, or ordered through the website with a bonus Ö-deck for Agricola.

• German publisher DDD Verlag has sold out of its Spiel 2010 release 1655: Habemus Papam. DDD is making small changes to the graphic design, while leaving the game play untouched, for a new edition to appear in April/May 2011.

• Check out this ridiculously detailed 3D version of Forbidden Island. Do it make you jealous or inspired?

• Designer Seth Jaffee pontificates on the nature of deck-building games, starting with granddaddy Dominion and ending with a current design project of his – Alter Ego, a superhero-based deck-building game that Jaffee has been brainstorming and testing since mid-2010. (Thought on Jaffee's Eminent Domain are also in the mix.) From Jaffee's post:

Quote:
I think the single most interesting thing about deck building is that the iterative small scale decisions you make throughout the game have a direct relationship with your late game position. Every card you add to or remove from your deck has a lasting impact on the game for you. Which means that you need to consider long term ramifications of short term decisions, making even somewhat trivial choices more interesting.

What does this mean in terms of designing a deck building game? It means that for one thing, the end game goal should be clearly stated from the outset, so you have some way to reasonably know what cards you'll want in your deck later on.
Has he diagnosed the pulse of deck-building games the same way that you would?

• Courtesy of Thomas L. McDonald, I present to you squirrels playing cards.
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Tue Mar 22, 2011 6:26 am
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